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A Stylistic Mash Up in Bangkok

Ahead of our Cubes 85 feature on hospitality-design studio greymatters (out in early April), we dive into Freebird – one of the F&B outlets designed and partially owned by the entrepreneurial studio founder Alan Barr.

A Stylistic Mash Up in Bangkok

Freebird, photography by Owen Raggett (courtesy of greymatters)

There is perhaps no project in the greymatters portfolio that better exemplifies designer Alan Barr’s entrepreneurial approach to practice than the Bangkok restaurant Freebird. When we chatted to Barr for an upcoming Cubes profile (read it in our upcoming issue 85, Apr/May), we discovered that not only does Barr head up an international design firm with studios in three cities; he is also a partner in a restaurant management and development company called skin+bones, which works alongside greymatters as the need arises or the opportunity presents itself.

Freebird, the modern Australian-style restaurant recently opened by Barr and his skin+bones partners in an old house in Bangkok, is an ideal example of his entrepreneurial approach. He says, “We do love to wrap our hands around the planet [of design], but we don’t say we have to do everything in a project. I really like to experiment. Part of the skin+bones experiment is to do things in our own projects that clients probably wouldn’t allow us to.”

Freebird has been a labour of love for Barr, to the point that he has located his Bangkok studio on its second floor. The materials library doubles up as a private dining room in the evenings. “We took the best of what everyone on the Freebird team brought to the table and made a restaurant out of that. It’s probably the reverse of what traditional restaurateurs do – qualitative and quantitative research into the market, looking at where the gap is, and trying to fill that gap. We created it organically. And it’s still changing.”

The interior developed from consideration of the restaurant’s culinary theme. “Modern Australian cuisine is very experimental, freeform and continually evolving. It puts things together you wouldn’t expect and it uses what’s available,” says Barr. As such the design changes as guests move through the space. “The space is broken up so it feels like a collection of small restaurants. And it also feels very residential. You can sit in a different area every time and have a different experience,” says Barr.

The kitchen is given pride of place near the entrance. “When you arrive you look at the theatre of the kitchen through huge windows into the workspace. It’s not hidden in a dark cave at the back,” says Barr. “Nothing is hidden; it’s an honest and open space.”

The materials and finishes tell the same story. Local timber was salvaged for cladding, an old terrazzo floor was exposed (now function like an area rug for a communal table), and ceilings were removed to reveal existing beams and timber flooring above. Says Barr, “We tried to respect the building as much as possible, and work within it.” Large-scale aerosol murals by Melbourne artist Steve Cross add to the mix.

Barr hopes to eventually achieve a 50-50 split between his own projects and his design consultancy work. And he has his sights firmly set on the broad geography of the region to achieve that. In the mean time, we can look forward to the opening of the first hotel projects designed by greymatters in the latter half of this year.

Photography by Owen Raggett (courtesy of greymatters).

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